WE DISCUSS VANA’DIEL
#1 Hiromichi Tanaka Part 4

“WE DISCUSS VANA’DIEL” is a series of conversations between Producer Matsui and special guests who are familiar with FINAL FANTASY XI (FFXI).

Our very first guest is the original producer of FFXI, Hiromichi Tanaka. In this four-part conversation, he spoke about starting the FFXI project, establishing the Development and Operations teams, and his mindset as a producer. In part four, Mr. Tanaka shared his thoughts on what it means to be a producer and what defines the FINAL FANTASY series.

Hiromichi Tanaka

Previously affiliated with Square Enix (formerly Square) as a Game Producer and is one of the founding creators of the FINAL FANTASY series.
Producer of FINAL FANTASY XI from the beginning of development until 2012.
He is currently involved in game development as a Corporate Officer at GungHo Online Entertainment, Inc.

Entrusting Tasks But Taking Responsibility

  • I would like to hear Mr. Tanaka’s thoughts on what it means to be a producer. As a producer, what aspects do you regard with importance?

  • Tanaka

    I’ve never given it much thought. Back in the day, I did everything myself and didn’t want to delegate even a single byte of data to someone else. I wasn’t satisfied if I didn’t design everything from all the data structures to the program logic. As I grew older, however, I naturally realized that I couldn’t work like that anymore and that I had to leave things for other people to handle. Once I decided to let others take care of things, I adopted a style of leaving the task completely up to the other person. After all, I too, disliked it when other people said this and that about my work back in the day. (laughs)

  • Matsui

    Sounds like a concern unique to those who are capable of doing everything.

  • Tanaka

    For example, if there are 10 scenario writers, you’d end up with 10 different stories. I think each of them is a “correct answer,” so as long as it makes sense, there’s nothing for me to criticize.

  • Matsui

    As someone who was working on the creator side, I was really grateful for Mr. Tanaka’s stance on things.

  • Tanaka

    I think tasks can be broken down into individual parts, as long as each part is created with care. In that sense, although I was recognized by the public as the Producer of FFXI, at work I was constantly working on UI-related aspects. My stance was, “I’ll create the framework, and the rest of you are free to create everything else as you like.” I also pushed for staff members to come forward and say with confidence, “This is my creation,” in interviews after a game was released.

  • Matsui

    It was Square’s (as we were known at the time) first MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game), so I’m sure there was a lot on the producer’s plate both before and after service began. I imagine you faced many hardships during the release of the Windows version or the launch of the North American version.

  • Tanaka

    I was just fulfilling the role of a representative, so I actually don’t remember struggling all that much. Even for overseas interviews, I think the only problem we had was that Mr. Ishii and myself were unable to meet the interviewers on site.

  • What I’ve gathered so far is that Mr. Tanaka was the type of producer who warmly watched over the members of his team. Mr. Matsui, was there anything he shared with you directly?

  • Matsui

    When I joined the company around FFIV, Mr. Tanaka’s documentations were my learning references.

  • Was it a secret formula for game development?

  • Matsui

    Not a secret formula, but the reference materials and specification documents from FFIII and Final Fantasy Legend II.

  • Tanaka

    To tell you the truth, we hardly made any reference materials when we made FFI and FFII. We just sort of made the games on the spot and pushed them into the master. Around the time we were working on FFIII, Mr. Sakaguchi (Hironobu Sakaguchi, one of the founding creators of the FINAL FANTASY series) pointed out, “Don’t you think we ought to document the development process?” Furthermore, there was an article where Mr. Horii (Yuji Horii, founder of Dragon Quest series) mentioned, “We create all these references when creating Dragon Quest,” and we were like, “We’re not going to improve if we don’t do the same.” (laughs) From then on, we followed Mr. Horii’s example and made things like hand-drawn maps.

  • Matsui

    It was those same documentations by Mr. Tanaka that caught my interest. I basically learned the ropes of game development from them. In that sense, I’m Mr. Tanaka’s disciple, so if he were to look at my documentation, he can easily tell where I cut corners and where I worked hard. Mr. Tanaka is my esteemed predecessor, and also my teacher.

  • Tanaka

    In Mr. Matsui’s case, he understands even the implicit details that may not be noticeable at a glance, and goes straight into writing the program. He was supposed to be in charge of data, but he somehow became a programmer. (laughs)

  • Matsui

    I’m not good at communicating, so I can’t really ask someone to take care of something for me, and end up doing it myself because it’s faster. (laughs) The part of Mr. Tanaka’s philosophy as a producer that I’m most grateful for is how he leaves things up to you, but will take responsibility. There’s a lot of comfort in knowing that even if things go wrong, Mr. Tanaka will cover for me. Though of course, that doesn’t mean I’d make him handle the mess if something goes wrong.

Answering “What is FINAL FANTASY?”

  • This is a question I’ll be asking the various guests who’ll be joining us in this series. Mr. Matsui and Mr. Tanaka, what does FFXI mean to you as a title?

  • Matsui

    The FF series introduced me to the basics of the game industry, but among those, FFXI was the vast frontier that appeared before me when I was stuck. It was like a new land to explore, or a wilderness to challenge.

  • Tanaka

    Since long ago, I’ve been frequently asked, “What is FF?” but I’ve never been able to answer it before. I’ve thought of each entry in the series as its own title, so FFI is FFI, FII is FFII, and so on. But recently, I’ve started to come up with an answer.

  • I’d love to hear it.

  • Tanaka

    The world of FF can be summed up as “physical principles.” Spells such as Fire and Cure, battle calculations and other internal physical principles are what comprise the world, and those are what define FF. For instance, if there’s a spell called “Laliho,*” no matter what the story or world may be, that’s a physical principle that defines Dragon Quest, so that is the world of Dragon Quest.

    * Laliho – Known as “Snooze” in the English version of Dragon Quest.
  • So you’re saying, creating a title based on those natural laws is what it means to create FF.

  • Tanaka

    Some of the titles take place in a more technologically advanced setting, but Fire is Fire, and Cure is Cure. I think that’s what defines FF.

  • Matsui

    Was it only recently that you started thinking this way?

  • Tanaka

    I’d say so. To someone unfamiliar with the games, it may be hard to believe that FFXI and FFXV are part of the same series, but both of them are FF. Within that series, when we were making FFXI, we designed it to be a tool for communication. During my time in games like Ultima Online or EverQuest, I never met my guild members or knew anything about their real life situations, but they still exuded a presence that felt human. I began to feel compassion for them and an embodiment of myself manifested in these games, which was shocking for me. I started viewing MMORPGs as mirrors in which we can see our personalities, and FFXI was the game where I sought to design the ultimate form of that concept.

  • Matsui

    Thank you for joining us, Mr. Tanaka. Before we wrap things up, do you have anything to say regarding FFXI’s 20th anniversary?

  • Tanaka

    This world couldn’t continue without its players, so I’m very grateful that you’ve been with the game for so long and have allowed Vana’diel to remain a place for you to return. I hope you’ll continue to warmly watch over Vana’diel for many years to come.